Triclosan in Toothpaste

By Catherine M. Fascilla, D.D.S.

Triclosan is a very widely used chemical that has been on the market since the mid-nineteen sixties. It was used initially as a hospital scrub to reduce bacterial contamination during surgery. While it is registered by the Environmental Protection Agency as a pesticide, it has antibacterial properties. Today it is so ubiquitous that it is found in dishwashing detergents, soaps, facial cleansers, deodorants, mouthwashes, cosmetics, clothing, furniture, toys, mattresses, carpeting, cookware, pesticides and other products including toothpaste.

The safety of Triclosan has long been debated. The FDA first proposed that it be removed from consumer products in 1978 but nothing has been done. By 1987 manufacturers started adding it to handsoaps and now 75% of all soaps contain it. It is in the chemical category of chloryl phenol, a suspected cancer causing agent in humans. Taken internally, it can cause convulsions, coma and death.

Multiple studies have shown that the use of antibacterial soaps is no more effective than plain soap. Hospital grade soaps however, do kill more bacteria because they contain greater amounts of triclosan. The concern is that the wide spread use of these soaps may cause bacterial resistance. The weaker bacterial strains are killed leaving behind the stronger resistant strains. Plain soap does not kill bacteria but washes it away.

Environmental groups are concerned about the build up of these chemicals in our water supplies and sewerage treatment centers. When antibacterial soaps are washed down the drain, they combine with chlorinated tap water. Most of the Triclosan is removed at the sewerage treatment center but what remains is rechlorinated forming chemicals called dioxins. The exposure of triclosan in our water supply to sunlight also results in the formation of dioxins. Some of these dioxins are extremely toxic and may persist in the environment.

Animal studies using very high levels of triclosan have shown that triclosan interfers with hormones that are important in reproduction and brain development. Because it modulates estrogens, it may potentilally cause cancer.

Triclosan is absorbed in our skin and in our blood stream. It stores itself in fatty tissue. In fact, residues of triclosan have been found in the urine of 75% of Americans six years and older. It has also been found in breast milk. Once it accumulates in our body, it is not easily removed.

Colgate Total is a very popular toothpaste produced by Colgate-Polmolive. It has been on the market since 1997 and it contains triclosan. It is approved by both the Food and Drug Administration and the American Dental Association and has been proven to significantly reduce plaque and gingivitis compared to traditional fluoridated toothpaste. Colgate-Polmolive states that more than 90 clinical studies involving 20,000 people as well as a broad set of safety evaluations make Colgate Total the most tested and reviewed toothpaste in the world and that it is safe.

Clearly there are serious concerns about triclosan and perhaps it is commercially overused. If you are concerned about health risks of triclosan, read the list of ingredients and avoid products that are made with triclosan.